MindFreedom member Mary Van Pelt successfully submitted this leter to the editor for publication, about changing the mental health system.
Original letter published here:
Below is the text:
Valley Courier, Alamosa, Colorado
May 9, 2008
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
by Mary Van Pelt
Seven years ago I experienced job discrimination based on my diagnosis.
Prior to that I was proud that my mental illness was invisible. No one could see it, no one had to know.
After job discrimination changed my life I discovered holes in the Americans With Disabilities Act. The law did not protect my rights. I began speaking out for human rights and social justice.
When I tell my story I find only a few words open the door to a flood of stories about the pain of mental illness and forced psychiatric treatment. Almost everyone has a story about a son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse or friend who lives with an invisible illness.
Mental illness is sometimes visible when we see an unkempt homeless person walking down the street, cigarette between fingers, head cast down and lost in his own murmuring. But that’s a stereotype. At the other end of the spectrum is Kay Redfield Jamison, professor of psychiatry and author of An Unquiet Mind. She turned her experience with bipolar disorder into a best selling book.
People who live with mental illness and hold a professional title are almost always forced to keep their illness silent and hidden. When my career ended so did my need to keep silent about an illness that kills thousands every year.
Suicide statistics are difficult to track due to the very nature of suicide. The act is surrounded by stigma. Depending upon the circumstances suicide can be reported as death from natural causes. The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention estimates between three and twenty-percent of persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder die each year by suicide. Because of my own experiences I find this statistic very easy to understand.
In her book, Hollow Promises: Employment Discrimination Against People With Mental Disabilities, Susan Stefan writes that public education about psychiatric disability is needed. The most potent kind of education occurs when a friend or family member has the courage to reveal that he or she has a psychiatric diagnosis. The invisible silence that surrounds hidden mental illness must be broken if we expect the law to protect us.
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